Through community engagement, experiential learning, and intergenerational collaboration, Trinity Theatre’s summer Leadership Lab brings together youth from communities across Toronto for a masterclass in peer-leadership. The Leadership Lab participants examine their community to explore its infrastructure and history, building a critical framework through which they learn about current issues. With this insight, these young leaders build initiatives and programs that both address their community needs and empower the youth to respond to its challenges. Throughout these processes, these students will develop a heightened awareness of themselves and their communities, compassion for their peers, and a deeper sense of belonging.
Each summer, participants of the Leadership Lab look forward to getting together with their teams to explore the city while learning first-hand about its infrastructure and history – whether it be on a walking tour around Weston, a field trip to the St. Lawrence Market, or chatting with a city representative, active participation is a key element in achieving the Leadership Lab’s goals. However, with the coronavirus pandemic having hold of the world for now almost six months, we find ourselves in unprecedented times. With the health and safety of all citizens as top priority, we put aside our social gatherings, set highly-anticipated affairs on hold, and modify whatever we can as best we can. Accordingly, Trinity Theatre has adjusted its programming to ensure that the youth leaders are nonetheless still provided with the opportunity to share their leadership skills with their peers and their communities. Through leadership training exercises and group meetings held remotely online, the Leadership Lab is hard at work developing programs for their community.
The Leadership Lab’s Youth Development Coordinators are leading their teams, composed of youth from Trinity’s partnerned communities and schools through tasks ranging from youth volunteer project creation to the development of community videos. From the Weston and Rexdale neighborhoods in the West, and Malvern and Greenwood-Danforth in the East, YDCs guide their secondary students in formulating an impactful community program based on the needs identified through community scans and local research. These projects are supported by additional data gathered by the Leadership Lab Research Team; in addition to providing resources, making recommendations, and evaluating each YDC project’s progress, the Research Team gathers data to further verify and strengthen the validity of the team project’s efforts. Despite the challenges that flexible, remote delivery poses in evaluating the team projects, Research Director Vidya Rajasingam notes that, “The team has been incredibly attentive to the needs of the Leadership Lab, and has taken initiative to develop systems for supporting other teams while pushing independent research projects forward.”
The goal this summer is to have the team projects ready to initiate at the start of the school year, however, with the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the delivery of schooling, the YDCs and their teams are facing some concerns about the future of their projects, as many of them will require the ability to physically work together. “One of the biggest challenges that we are faced with is the uncertainty of how the TDSB will operate in the Fall,” says Nancy Awadallah, Trinity’s Volunteer & Programs Coordinator, who is responsible for implementing workshop programming into the Leadership Lab and developing a volunteer recruitment strategy for the teams’ initiatives. “Most of our projects require physically engaging with students and exploring our communities for beautification purposes.”
Among the logistical and administrative challenges that come with physical distancing, the members of the Leadership Lab regret not being able to share in the warmth that only one-on-one collaboration can bring. Despite these hurdles, they are taking things in stride and are making the most of what the situation presents to them. The teams have created several online channels alongside their work tasks to facilitate casual chats with one another, and have planned biweekly socials to encourage relationship building. “The best we can do is keep up with the news that’s coming out, and evolve our projects around it,” says Trinity’s Lead Project Manager Mohit Sharma, who oversees the initiatives of the YDCs and provides guiding direction. Ultimately, the mandate of the Leadership Lab remains the same: “We want the students that we work with to develop their professional and social skills to the best of their ability.”